37% of fourth graders struggle with reading problems so severely that it is impossible to successfully understand and complete normal fourth grade assignments. Further, 3 out of 4 of that group read so poorly they have little chance at educational progress and ultimate educational attainment. (This data was reported in a recent National Assessment of Educational Progress report.)
Why So Many Struggling Readers?
Most of those fourth graders received substantial reading instruction in either whole word or phonetic reading systems, yet still so many, instructed in either system, simply cannot read. To understand the cause behind this reading disaster, consider that a substantial segment of the population has some form of auditory processing weakness; in many, this weakness is classified as severe.
Auditory processing is the underlying cognitive ability to recognize, analyze, segment, and blend sounds. It is an essential mental skill required to read and spell successfully. One hundred and thirty studies commissioned by the federal government and our own pre- and post-test data from thousands of students over 10 years show that weak auditory processing skills are the major cause of struggles for the students who read and spell below grade level. A student with severely deficient auditory processing ability simply cannot read fluently or successfully. The great news is this:
Auditory processing skill weaknesses can be identified, trained, and strengthened. Stronger underlying skills lead to better, faster, more fluent reading.
Reading Problems - Why Reading is Difficult
Reading problems can partially be attributed to the fact that English is one of the most difficult languages to learn. It is made up of 43 phonemes (sounds) -- 26 consonants and 17 vowels - but only uses 26 letter symbols to represent those sounds. Because of this ratio, several additional letter combinations must be used to represent the other sounds. Further complicating the process, four letters -- c, x, w, y -- borrow sounds from other letters. For example, the letter "c" borrows its sound from the /k/ sound as in the word "cat" and the /s/ sound as in the word "center."
Whole word reading systems ask students to commit huge amounts of material to memory. Phonics programs ask students to become fluent in phonetic pronunciation, and still demand they memorize almost as many exceptions and variants as the basic set of phonics "rules." Neither of these forms of reading instruction helps those students with weak auditory or cognitive skills. These complex systems with rules and exceptions to the rules makes learning to read and spell one of the most difficult tasks a child encounters. When these challenges are further complicated by weak cognitive skills (especially in auditory processing) and/or an inefficient reading system relying on whole word recognition or a rule/exception memorization, the task becomes nearly impossible and certainly frustrating.